The verbal ability section of many competitive examinations, including campus placement tests, contains questions that test the grammatical competence of the candidates. Invariably all such tests have a ‘spot the error’ section, and questions about the order of words or inversions. Examiners try to trick test takers with items that confuse them and questions about inversions do confuse the candidates. Most candidates are familiar with sentences with the normal word order, but are not familiar with inversions as they are not commonly used in everyday communication. While conducting a training session on verbal ability recently, I found that over 90 per cent of the students had difficulty getting the inversion items correct.
What is an inversion? It is a changed order of words. In the normal order the subject comes first and the verb second, as in these examples: Ganesh likes his sister. Ramesh is a doctor. John goes to church every day. John and Mary are friends.
A sentence is inverted for different reasons: i) to make a question ii) to convey emphasis iii) after introductory negatives such as neither and nor. Look at these examples:
1. Is she really intelligent?
2. Will you attend the programme?
3. Never have I contacted him over the phone.
4. Only recently did I consult the dermatologist.
If there is an inversion at the beginning of a longer sentence, there won’t be another inversion in the main part of the sentence as in the examples below:
• Do you mind sharing with me why you didn’t accompany him?
• Could you please tell me where the restaurant is?
In the sentences below the subject comes at the end for emphasis:
1. Here comes the hero.
2. Now comes the best part of the presentation.
3. On the new list your names will be added.
4. On the first floor is my office.
5. In the wardrobe are the newly bought dresses.
The verb goes into the third place in exclamations as in the following examples:
• What a wonderful person he is!
• What a lovely flower that is!
When we make short agreements using so, neither, nor, we apply the rules of inversion. Look at the examples below:
• A: I had lunch in our college canteen.
B: So did I.
• A: James is not a good dancer.
B: Nor is his brother.
• A: I am not going to watch the movie.
B: Neither am I.
• They go to KFC every Friday and so do we.
When any of these words and phrases – only, rarely, seldom, at no time, not only, under no circumstances – come before the subject, the word order is inverted. Here are some examples:
• Only recently did I realise that the girl you were talking to was my student.
• Rarely do I take medicine when I have a headache.
• Seldom does my brother go to church.
• Under no circumstances will I apologise to him.
Note that there is no inversion when only is used in the following way:
• Only Pradeep attended the meeting.
• Only one person gave me a gift.